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Be more productive without working harder

  • Blog
  • 29 September 2016

We’ve all experienced the wasted day — it’s six o’clock and where did the time go? All of the things we had planned to do today are going to have to go on the list for tomorrow. Wouldn’t it be great if we could say goodbye to wasted days and be more productive, without working late into the night?

Well, there are some principles we can adopt that will give us more energy, more focus, better results, more happiness, more time and fewer wasted days.

Be more productive without working harder

It's a truism that people are our greatest asset. By extension, you are your own greatest asset. It is vitally important that you take care of your mental, spiritual, emotional and physical health. You absolutely have to get this in order, if everything else is going to work properly. It’s very often the case that when things are going badly, we find that we have let one or more of these four things slide.

It’s good to get into a daily routine of doing something that can be done consistently over the long term, such as yoga, gym, meditation, squash, football or walking the dog. It’s important to stay in good physical shape, but that’s the easy part. We also need to nurture our emotional and spiritual health. What can we do to improve relationships at home, with our partners, with our children, with our extended families? Investing time in other people will reap enormous rewards.

All of this means having a consistent morning ritual. It certainly means waking up early, and it may mean yoga at 5.30 am or a run, or it may simply mean sitting down to breakfast with the family. Whatever it is, find a routine that supports your physical, mental, spiritual and emotional health, every day.

Once a bedrock of physical health, spiritual balance, mental and emotional well-being is established, you can start to look at some strategies that will make the mountain of work much more manageable.

A great practice to follow is to know where you are headed and what you want to achieve. As Steven Covey once said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” So you need to set goals. Where do you want to be at the end of the year, for example, regarding revenue, new customers, product lines, market share, reputation, networks? What do you need to do over the next four sets of 90 days to get there? Then break that down into weekly and daily tasks.

We should all be setting daily priorities. Everyday, we need to identify our Most Important Task, and work on that for two hours. Schedule it into the calendar. Rather than using to-do lists, try to actually schedule tasks into the calendar, instead. Then stick to the schedule. Experiment with work themes for specific days of the week. Identify entire days to work on major areas such as “on-the-business” activities, business development, expansion plans and new product lines, and schedule tasks in that fit that day’s theme.

One useful habit is to use a notebook. Capture everything in the notebook, and review your notes at the end of the day. Any tasks arising should be scheduled in the calendar. It also helps productivity to analyse tasks, activities and behaviours in the following way: is what we are doing important and urgent, important and not urgent, not important but urgent, or not important and not urgent? Importance is determined by whether or not the actions are helping us meet our long term goals, or contributing to our physical, mental, emotional or spiritual well-being. Urgency is usually determined by others — a client, a supplier, or a co-worker, for example. There is often not much we can do about the urgent, except roll with the punches.

People often find that a lot of what they do is neither important nor urgent. So these things should be minimised, although not to the point of being puritanical about it. Some of these things are procrastination tactics, and many people are, by nature, procrastinators. Some of us make our best decisions at the last minute, and this may be because the procrastination we exhibit allows us to analyse situations subconsciously. So keep a sense of proportion, but nonetheless, be aware of what you are allowing to steal your precious minutes away.

When we analyse our behaviour, we are likely to find that emails and social media has occupied a lot of our time. A good productivity tip is to schedule emails in three times a day, and no more than that. Set aside time to read and answer emails. Don’t be “always on”.

Here are three last pieces of advice for being more productive without working harder:

  1. Outsource or delegate as much as possible. It is difficult for single person businesses to delegate, but there is probably much that can be outsourced. Analyse your workload, and ask what you can hand off to someone else that will free you up for more important or higher value activity?
  2. Avoid meetings. This is actually easy to do if you are running a single person business, but for others, meetings are a huge drain on time. If you have to have meetings, keep them short. A good way to do this is to have them standing up.
  3. Say No. It is so easy to say yes to everything, as no-one wants to miss an opportunity. However, if you have a clear idea of where you are headed, what you want to achieve, and you are focused only on achieving your goals, then saying no becomes not only easy, but essential.

A final thought about time management — try not to focus on time. Focus instead on energy. Engage in activities that keep your energy levels up: good sleep, healthy diet, frequent exercise and short breaks. You may quickly find that you are much more productive, without actually working any harder.

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